Examination of Witnesses (Questions 800
WEDNESDAY 29 NOVEMBER 2000
800. Would you be prepared to let a company
(Mr Grant) Yes.
801. So you would be able to look for alternates
should that be a real possibility?
(Mr Grant) That would be the intention.
802. Do you think skills shortages are going
to make it difficult to implement the rail investment programme?
(Sir Alastair Morton) It is a problem. It follows
on from what I was saying about consultancy. There is a shortage
of skilled resource in the industry at all levels from skilled
tradesmen upwards, or sideways. The cure for that has to lie not
only with training and college courses and so on, it also has
to lie with employment prospects. What we are basically proposing
is a ten year process on the railways of semi-continuous, continuous
investment, growing investment, as well as rising levels of operation,
operation complexity and interest for careers and so on, but continuity
is the important point. If people see that this is an industry
that is going to be going forward for years to come we hope that
they are going to come forward and want franchises and seek to
do business as contractors in whatever way, whether it is meals
or maintenance or whatever. Then, further we want to believe that
those firms, or the franchisees, or Railtrack, or whoever, are
going to be offering more and more employment, including the rail
consultancies, to graduates and to others, so that you get a growth
field into the sector that has not been present in this sector
for a very long time.
803. Have you asked Railtrack whether they intend
to persist with their previous policy of trying to knock down
the numbers of contractors available for maintenance work in the
(Sir Alastair Morton) I think they were pursuing a
policy which had a good side to it, which was to consolidate on
strength. I do not know what their new plan is. I know they suspended
the preparation and negotiation of new generation maintenance
contracts, the IMC 2000 contract. They have suspended that for
the moment while they are in the present crisis.
804. Is this not the moment to be asking them
questions about their attitude and their policies into the future?
(Sir Alastair Morton) I think soon will be the moment
but I think now they have got to focus on getting the recovery
805. So you will be asking them about the number
of people with safety certificates, the way they have been handing
out contracts in the past and the effect that moving contracts
around vast numbers of contractors has actually played on the
level and quality of maintenance on the railway?
(Sir Alastair Morton) Without being an expert in the
specifics, yes we will be interested in how they propose to contract-out
the maintenance. There is the question that I have referred to,
and they have referred to, of exactly who takes responsibility
for what at the interface between them and their contractors because
the risk reward ratio for contractors is part of the pricing of
806. Sir Alastair, forgive me, but I think if
you read this Committee's Reports you will know that we are quite
clear where the safety case responsibility lies and it lies with
(Sir Alastair Morton) Yes.
807. And it does not matter who they employ
or what conditions they lay down or what sharp lawyer they have
to draw up a contract. In fact, the reality is that they have
the ultimate responsibility for the safety of their passengers.
(Sir Alastair Morton) That is correct.
808. Whatever they call themthey can
call them customers, they can call them whatever the likethe
ultimate safety responsibility lies with Railtrack.
(Sir Alastair Morton) That is true, I agree.
809. It might be useful occasionally to remind
them of that, might it not? Can we ask whether you think that
there are conflicting pressures for network safety performance
(Sir Alastair Morton) No. I think there are conflicts
at times but they are not fundamental conflicts. What do I mean
by "at times"? I managed to annoy a lawyer, which pleased
me, in front of the Cullen Inquiry when I suggested that the present
situation is like a waiter stepping on to an ice rink to cross
it in order to deliver it a tray of drinks and slipping, and while
he is trying to get his balance back on the ice rink in front
of all those people he does not pay the attention that he should
to keeping the liquid in the glasses. Railtrack is somewhat in
that position, it has lost its balance. If it tried to do too
many things at once at this moment it would have difficulty delivering
on all of them. That goes for performance and safety, performance
and growth, safety and growth, whatever. That is not the case
when you have got your balance back. When you have got your network
operating smoothly on an acceptable level it should be both safe
and performing acceptably and it should be possibleanother
factorto grow it. All of those are demands on the management
of the network. If it is in kilter, if it is running smoothly,
if it is not delivering rude surprises and blows to the solar
plexus, as it were, you should be able to deliver safety performance
and growth and that is the planning assumption which a stable,
satisfactorily operating Railtrack can deliver in conjunction
with users and funders, whoever else, contractors. A network on
which you get safety, you get performance and growth. You do not
have to pick between them once you have got the thing operating
810. I think we all hope you are correct. The
only other thing I would say, before I say thank you, is if your
waiter had a good employer he would not be put at risk in that
manner and if he fell over and dropped his tray and cut himself
on the glass he might have a different attitude, might he not?
(Sir Alastair Morton) I think your observation is
a shrewd one, Chairman.
811. One question. Earlier on when I was asking
you about your attitude towards Railtrack's preferential shares,
you said that the SRA had recommended that not be done?
(Sir Alastair Morton) Had not recommended it, yes.
812. Had recommended it not be done, yes. Is
it possible for your authority to let the Committee have the detailed
reasons why you recommended that?
(Sir Alastair Morton) No. I think they were the ones
that I stated here, that you get more complications than you get
benefits that way.
813. So it was as simple as that?
(Sir Alastair Morton) It was a business judgment from
me, as Chairman, in advice to Ministers.
814. There is no more detail available other
(Sir Alastair Morton) If they had the desire to be
proprietors of large quantities of shares in Railtrack I am sure
they would have come back to me.
Mr Stevenson: Thank you, that is all.
Chairman: Thank you very much. I am sorry we
have kept you quite so long but it has been very useful. Thank